Friday, December 11, 2015

Russian Christmas Traditions

In just a few days many will be celebrating Рождество (Christmas). As you may know, most Russians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25, but instead do so on January 7 according to Юлианский календарь (Julian calendar).
Much like Christmas Day in the US, Christmas Day in Russia is официальный выходной (official holiday). It follows on the heels of the новогодние праздники (New Year holidays) which are also days off and form a mega-holiday that this year lasts from тридцатое декабря (December 30th) to восьмое января (January 8th).
While for many this long period of зимние праздники (winter holidays) is the time of revelry and lots of delicious food, верующие (religious) Russians are observing the 40-day fast. It ends on the evening of January 6th, the time known as Сочельник (Christmas Eve).
The word сочельник is rather unusual. Unlike the English-language “eve”, сочельник is only used to describe Christmas Eve. Days before any other holidays or events are called канун (eve, night before), although the word канун can also be used for Christmas Eve.
Сочельник – это канун Рождества – Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas
Канун Нового года в России является нерабочим днём – The New Year’s Eve is a day off in Russia.
Накануне Нового года магазины продают больше всего шампанского – Stores sell the most sparkling wine in the days before the New Year.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the word сочельник sounds close to another Russian word, сочный (juicy). Indeed, the two words share the same root, сок (juice). The day before Christmas is the day of строгого поста (strict fasting) and reflection. Traditionally, the fast lasts до первой звезды (until the first star appears). And the traditional dish served at this point is сочиво also known as кутья, a dish of cooked wheat grains with walnuts, raisins and honey. Hence the word for the Christmas Eve – сочельник, the time when сочиво is eaten.
Russia has many beautiful Christmas traditions. Many years ago, one of the most beloved traditions took place в ночь перед Рождеством (on Christmas night). After breaking the 40-day fast with family, people used to stay up all night, walk from house to house and sing колядки (Christmas carols). As a reward, колядующие (those singing колядки) would get generous угощение (refreshments). This tradition возраждается (is resurging).
Many of the carolers would disguise themselves by putting on наряды (costumes) and маски (masks) or личины (masks, from the word лицо –  face). These ряженые (masks) would, in addition to caroling, play pranks on those who were not very щедрые (generous) with the reward for the singing or costumes.
The Christmas night begins a period known as святки (yuletide), a time for святочные гадания (yuletide fortune-telling). Young girls would try гадать (to read fortune) in tea leaves, mirrors, candle wax, barn noises, and such. Most of such fortune-telling had to do with угадать (to guess) what суженый (Mr. Right) would look like, when he would appear in a girl’s life, and whether the married life would be happy one.
One of the most famous works of Russian classical literature, Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” has a scene where the young heroine, Tatiana Larina, tries to foretell her future husband’s name as she walks out to the road in the middle of the night to ask the first passerby for his name (which, according to the belief, would also be the name of her future husband).
Many other Russian classical authors wrote stories about or included descriptions of Christmas and its обычаи (customs) in their works. One of the most beloved stories is Gogol’s fairy tale “Ночь перед Рождеством” (Christmas Eve or The Night before Christmas). It starts with the devil stealing the moon, two drunks getting lost in the snowstorm, and a beautiful girl making an unreasonable demand of a courageous and handsome young man who adores her. But it all ends as things should end on Christmas. The good ones are rewarded and even the bad ones are not punished too severely.
So grab a copy of the Christmas Eve (available in English) or watch it online and enjoy the season. Счастливого Нового года и весёлого Рождества! (Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas!)


Us vs Russia: What a war would look like between the world's most fearsome militaries

Russia has big ambitions, growing capabilities

Early on the morning of Sept. 30, a Russian three-star general approached the American embassy in Baghdad, walked past a wall of well-armed Marines, to deliver face-to-face a diplomatic demarche to the United States. His statement was blunt: The Russia military would begin air strikes in neighboring Syria within the hour — and the American military should clear the area immediately.

It was a bout of brinksmanship between two nuclear-armed giants that the world has not seen in decades, and it has revived Cold War levels of suspicion, antagonism and gamesmanship.

With the launch of airstrikes in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated a proxy war with the U.S., putting those nation's powerful militaries in support of opposing sides of the multipolar conflict. And it's a huge gamble for Moscow, experts say. "This is really quite difficult for them. It's logistically complex. The Russians don't have much in the way of long-range power projection capability," said Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert at New York University.

Moscow's military campaign in Syria is relying on supply lines that require air corridors through both Iranian and Iraqi air space. The only alternatives are naval supply lines running from Crimea, requiring a passage of up to 10 days round-trip. How long that can be sustained is unclear.

That and other questions about Russian military capabilities and objectives are taking center stage as Putin shows a relentless willingness to use military force in a heavy-handed foreign policy aimed at restoring his nation's stature as a world power. In that quest, he has raised the specter of resurgent Russian military might — from Ukraine to the Baltics, from Syria to the broader Middle East.

Russia's increasingly aggressive posture has sparked a sweeping review among U.S. defense strategists of America's military policies and contingency plans in the event of a conflict with the former Soviet state. Indeed, the Pentagon's senior leaders are asking questions that have been set aside for more than 20 years:

How much are the Russians truly capable of?

Where precisely might a conflict with Russia occur?

What would a war with Russia look like today?

Make no mistake: Experts agree that the U.S. military's globe-spanning force would clobber the Russian military in any toe-to-toe conventional fight. But modern wars are not toe-to-toe conventional fights; geography, politics and terrain inevitably give one side an advantage.

Today, the U.S. spends nearly 10 times more than Russia on national defense. The U.S. operates 10 aircraft carriers; Russia has just one. And the U.S. military maintains a broad technological edge and a vastly superior ability to project power around the world.

Russia remains weak, according to many traditional criteria. But it is now developing some key technologies, new fighting tactics and a brazen geopolitical strategy that is aggressively undermining America's 25-year claim to being the only truly global superpower. The result: Russia is unexpectedly re-emerging as America's chief military rival.

As U.S. officials watch that unfold, they are "clearly motivated by concerns that at least locally, Russia has the potential to generate superior forces," said David Ochmanek, a former Pentagon official who is now a defense analyst at the RAND Corp. And looming over the entire U.S.-Russian relationship are their nuclear arsenals. Russia has preserved, even modernized, its own "triad" with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, a large fleet of long-range strike aircraft and increasingly sophisticated nuclear-armed submarines.

"The Russian defense industry is being rebuilt from ruins," said Vadim Kozyulin, a military expert at the Moscow-based PIR Center, a think tank. "The military balance can only be ensured by Russia's nuclear might, which isn't as expensive to maintain as many people think."

But while Russia's conventional forces are less impressive than its nuclear forces, there are specific conventional areas where the Russians excel — among them aircraft, air defenses, submarines, and electronic warfare.

The Soviet-era weapons design bureaus remain prominent internationally. Russia's aerospace industry, for example, has benefited greatly from international exports to non-Western nations, which go to Russia to buy effective fighter jets that are cheaper than their Western variants. China today spends more on defense annually than Russia, but still imports platforms and advanced weaponry from Russia.

Attempting a side-by-side comparisons of the U.S. and Russian militaries is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, many experts say; the Russians have distinctly different strategic goals, and their military structure reflects that. Russia views itself as a land-based power, exerting influence in a sphere expanding outward from its Eurasian heartland into Eastern Europe, Central Asia and possibly the Middle East and Pacific rim. It is well suited for relying on a particular set of capabilities known as "anti-access and area denial."

"The United States and Russia are going for different things," Galeotti said. "What the Russians are looking for is not to take on and compete on equal terms with us. It's denial." For example, he said, "one can look at the U.S. Navy as massively superior to the Russian navy. Most of them are legacy Soviet ships. But in a way, that doesn't matter, because Russia does not plan to send its forces all across the world's oceans."

That's reflected in the fact that Russia maintains a lone aircraft carrier while the U.S. Navy's 10-carrier fleet operates on a continuing global deployment cycle. Instead of carriers designed for offensive power projection at sea, the Russians are investing in an expanding fleet of submarines that can supplement their nuclear force and, conventionally, threaten an enemy surface fleet in nearby waters such as the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea or the Mediterranean Sea.

Its airspace also is heavily fortified. The quality of Russia's stealth aircraft is far weaker than those of the U.S., but Russia has cutting-edge anti-stealth systems, and also has invested heavily in robust surface-to-air missile systems and arrayed its forces domestically to protect its border regions. "The static airpower picture would favor the Russians because they have a lot of capability in terms of air defense and a variety of tactical and cruise and ballistic missiles," said Paul Schwartz, a Russian military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russia's electronic warfare capability is also daunting to Pentagon military planners; left unclear is the extent to which Russia could jam the radars and signals intelligence that forms the foundation of the U.S.'s advanced air power. Any attempt by the U.S. and its allies to infiltrate Russian air space "would not necessarily be easy," Schwartz said. "It would be a contested environment. But over time I think we would be able to degrade it. The problem is, with a nuclear power, you try to avoid a full-scale fighting."

Meanwhile, the Russian army, still predominantly a conscripted force, is being transitioned to an American-style professional force. In effect, Russia has two armies: About two thirds of the roughly 800,000-man force remains filled with unmotivated and poorly trained draftees, but about one third is not — and those are the units outfitted with top-notch gear, including the Armata T-14 Main Battle Tanks.

In sum, the Russian military is not the equal of the U.S. military. But the gap has narrowed in recent years.

Forward Operating Base Syria

Russia's swift creation of a forward operating base in Syria has stunned many U.S. officials. In just a few weeks, its military erected a potentially permanent base at Latakia, on Syria's Mediterranean coast. They've deployed dozens of combat aircraft, fortified the installation with tanks and assembled housing for hundreds of troops.

The Russians recently announced plans for a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean this fall, but did not specify exactly when ships would deploy to the region. The exercise will feature the Black Sea Fleet's flagship, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, as well as several smaller escort vessels and large amphibious assault and landing ships, Russia's TASS news agency reported. Some military officials question whether the exercise is a cover for shipping more troops and gear to the Syrian coast.

The new forward operating base will give Russia the capability to fly combat air sorties, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance missions and drones across the Middle East. That could include Iraq, the leadership of which has invited the Russians to assist in the fight against the Islamic State in that country.

The base will help secure Russia's longtime naval support facility at the Syrian port of Tarus, a key to the Russian military's ability to maintain and project power into the Mediterranean. Russia reportedly is expanding its footprint at the Tarus facility.

More broadly, Moscow is signaling a long-term interest in extending its umbrella of anti-access area denial capabilities into the Middle East. The Russians reportedly are shipping some of their most advanced surface-to-air missile systems into Latakia, raising concerns inside the Pentagon because that move runs counter to Russia's claims of limiting the focus of its military activities to Syrian rebel groups like the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

"We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into those airfields, we see some very sophisticated air-to-air aircraft going into these airfields," Gen. Phillip Breedlove, chief of the U.S. European Command and also the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said Sept. 28. "I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require SA-15s or SA-22s [Russian missiles]. I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities. These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL ... they're about something else."

In effect, the Russians could challenge the air superiority maintained — even taken for granted — by the U.S. over large swaths the Middle East for more than 20 years. A crucial factor in this equation is Russia's alliance with Iran, another key Syrian ally. Russia depends on Iranian airspace for its flight corridors into Syria, and reportedly is prepared to support Iranian ground troops aligned with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Experts inside Russia believe the incursion into Syria, along with Putin's aggressive speech at the United Nations on Sept. 28, signal his long-term interest in becoming a key player in the region.

"It became clear that Russia is going to exercise a more ambitious policy in the Middle East. The Russian President made it clear that the western model of democracy and its way of dealing with conflicts in the region is not working," said Yury Barmin, a Moscow-based Russian expert on Mideast politics and Russian foreign policy. However, Barmin said, "it is doubtful that Russia has the capacity to emerge as a leading power in [the Middle East] in the near future because its presence in the region is limited if you compare it to that of the United States."

Yet some see Putin's maneuvers in Syria as some broader geopolitical gambit that aims to secure a deal on Ukraine. Russia currently occupies parts of Ukraine, but the U.S. still considers Moscow's March 2014 invasion illegal and its control there illegitimate. "It's much more about the U.S. than it is about Syria and Assad," Galeotti said. "Let's be honest, if Washington indicated that some deal could be struck where they tacitly accept the Russians' position in Crimea and parts of Donbas, they are not going to fight a war for Assad."

In Ukraine, a new brand of 'hybrid warfare'

The conflict in Ukraine and the American training mission there is giving the Pentagon fresh insight on an enemy they might fight elsewhere in the not-too-distant future. But critics say America's timid response to Russian aggression — both in Crimea and the the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — has done little to deter Moscow. In Ukraine Russia has revealed a new brand of "hybrid warfare," one that mixes non-state proxy fighters, heavy armor and artillery, drones, electronic warfare and aggressive information operations to achieve battlefield victories.

"It is good for us to be aware how they fight," said Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, in an interview with Military Times on Sept. 10. "We have not fought wars the way they do in kind of an urban, mixed urban and nonurban setting with UAVs, with electronic jamming."

Farkas is stepping down from her post at the end of October, after five years at the Defense Department. It's unclear who will take her place as the Pentagon's key policy maker for Russia-related issues.

For the small cadre of U.S. military professionals who've been working alongside Ukrainian government forces, the fight against Russian-backed rebels is a major change from their recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We've got a ton of experience in low-intensity warfare, counterinsurgency warfare, whereas a bulk of the Ukraine experience is facing a 21st-century, near-peer adversary," said Army Lt. Col. Michael Kloepper, commander of the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, which recently began its third rotation into Ukraine to train that nation's military forces.

The Army deployments are part of a broader U.S. military effort to reassure NATO allies rattled by Russia's actions. Yet the Obama administration has been reluctant to provide more robust support, determined, it seems, to avoid the potential for a proxy war with the Russians.

Russian has lined thousands of troops and large tank and artillery units along its Ukrainian border. Those Russian troops routinely shell the border towns and make incursions into Ukraine to fight alongside the rebels in the contested areas. So far, the administration has pledged only "nonlethal aid" for training and gear such as Humvees, small drones and radar.

Washington has placed economic sanctions on Russia, sent U.S. troops to help train Ukrainian forces and has ramped up military exercises across Eastern Europe. But it has not yet provided any offensive weaponry and ammunition, and it has not threatened military action against Russia. Since March 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine, the U.S. has contributed $244 million in nonlethal security assistance and training. For comparison, that amount would pay for about three weeks of operations in Iraq and Syria.

Ukrainian officials in Kiev have made repeated pleas for more. "We need anti-tank Javelin systems, intelligence and combat drones, ... fighter jets, helicopters, electronic and signal intelligence systems, radars and sound intelligence systems" to counter Russian military equipment used by Moscow-backed separatists on the eastern front, said Colonel General Victor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian military's top officer. They've also asked for anti-aircraft guns and more equipment to neutralize enemy snipers, he told Military Times.

There are between 30,000 and 35,000 Russian-backed fighters in Eastern Ukraine, about 9,000 of whom are coming solely from the Russian front, Muzhenko estimates. They're using sophisticated electronic warfare systems to jam the Ukrainians' communications, radar, GPS and early warning-detection equipment, said Ihor Dolhov, Ukraine's deputy defense minister for European integration.

It's a unique battlespace, and the Americans who have provided training to Ukrainian forces are eager to collect intelligence about the Russians' new mode of combat. "It has been interesting to hear what they have learned," Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, told Defense News, a sister publication of Military Times. "No Americans have been under Russian artillery or rocket fire or been on the receiving end of significant Russian electronic warfare, the jamming and collecting, for example, not at tactical levels."

The future of the Ukraine conflict is unclear. In late September, all sides agreed to withdraw tanks and heavy artillery from Ukraine's eastern front. A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine also appears to be holding, although each side remains wary, and local parliamentary elections set to take place Oct. 25 may be upended by pro-Russian separatists, who aim to hold their own elections.

For now, Obama shows no signs of conceding to Russian control the regions Ukraine has controlled for decades. "We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated," Obama told the U.N. General Assembly in a major speech on Sept. 28. "That's the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners imposed on Russia. It's not a desire to return to the Cold War."

Predicting the next flashpoint

For more than a year, the U.S. and its European allies have been reassessing the military balance along NATO's eastern border, which is lined with former Soviet satellite states. The result has been Operation Atlantic Resolve, an expanded rotational presence of U.S troops in NATO's easternmost countries like Poland, the Baltics, Romania and Bulgaria.

Putin and his military have menaced the Baltic countries, who are among the newest and weakest NATO partners. Russia has repeatedly sent military aircraft into Baltic airspace, patrolled submarines in the Baltic Sea and allegedly mounted cyber-attacks. And Russian officials have voiced support for Russian-speaking minorities, raising the specter of future agitation.

The aggression in the Baltics, especially Estonia, which has a large Russian-speaking minority, has been more ambiguous than Moscow's overt operations in Ukraine and Syria. The argument goes that Putin would employ a type of hybrid warfare perfected in Ukraine to rally ethnic Russian populations in the Baltic states to rise up in support with special operations forces — the so-called "little green men."

That has sparked concern in the West that Putin's ultimate goal is to break NATO with force, if intimidation fails. NATO is struggling to figure out how to respond, with member nations holding differing perspectives on when Russian behavior crosses a red line. It's about "working out at what point a military response is the correct response," said Nick de Larrinaga, a London-based analyst for IHS Jane's Defense and Security Group. "Hybrid warfare casts doubts about when there should be a military response, or whether this is a civilian issue that should be taken care of by local law enforcement," he said.

Another option for Russia, of course, is to shift to a conventional fight. A review of the military balance in the immediate Baltic theater would seem to give Russia an initial advantage in an aerial campaign against NATO, if Moscow's political objective was to push NATO out of the Baltics.

According to a recent report by international think tank Chatham House, Russia's military strength in its Western Military District stands at 65,000 ground troops, 850 pieces of artillery, 750 tanks, and 320 combat aircraft. Other estimates are much higher, but in general there is a high degree of uncertainty about how much of those forces exist only on paper, and how many are truly prepared for combat.

Another aspect of the Russian military that gets overhyped is its Baltic Fleet, the smallest of Russia's main fleets and truly a shadow of its former self. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the coastal infrastructure that stretched from Kalingrad to Leningrad was lost to the newly independent Baltic states.

Today, the fleet is split between Kalingrad and St. Petersburg, making it difficult to support a larger fleet. The Baltic Fleet's assets today include only two small Kilo-class diesel powered submarines, one of which is used mostly for training, along with a handful of Sovremenny-class destroyers, a frigate, four corvettes, and a smattering of support ships.

For a conventional operation, Russia also could bring assets from its Northern Fleet, which frequently patrols the North Atlantic, into the Baltic theater to support a larger action.

That threat could become a powerful one if Russia's true goal in the Baltics is to force NATO into showing that it won't honor Article V, the key element of the alliance treaty that holds an attack on one member nation will be met with a swift and unified response from all member nations.

Defense News' Russia correspondent, Matthew Bodner, contributed to this report from Moscow.

Top 12 Russian Sweets

Nearly everyone can identify traditional Russian dishes such as borshch and schi. What people don’t know is that this healthy diet of beetroot, buckwheat and cabbage is supplemented by a delicious array of traditional Russian sweets. Russians seem to have a hereditary sweet tooth, and over the centuries they have come up with a wide selection of irresistible treats.

1. Tula Gingerbread

Gingerbread can rightfully claim to be one of Russia’s original sweets. A dessert called “honey bread” was first enjoyed in Ancient Egypt and came to Russia in the 9th Century, when the legendary Rurik and Oleg of Novgorod joined together disparate East Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes to form one unified state.

At that time, gingerbread was made from rye flour mixed with honey and berry juice. It got its modern name when people started enhancing this recipe with spices from India and the Middle East, which first appeared in Russia in the 12th-13th centuries. The most famous Russian gingerbread is from Tula, about 120 miles south of Moscow. It is a square slab of spicy cake filled with jam or condensed milk. In the late 1990s, Tula opened a museum devoted to the cake.

2.  Pastila (Pastels)

Russian merchants have long had strong trading links with the Middle East and the second most popular Russian sweet – pastila – is reminiscent of Turkish Delight.

However, the main ingredients of pastila, which first appeared in Russia in the 16th century, are no more exotic than sour apples, honey and egg whites. Until the 19th century, the recipe for the Kolomensky pastels – by far the most delicious – was a closely guarded secret, but then French candymakers added whipped egg-whites to an apple and fruit puree and discovered a new delicacy -  the French marshmallow. At about the same time, Russian confectioners started using sugar instead of honey, and today pastels are made using the same process.

3. Ptichie Moloko (Birds’ Milk Cake)

The name of this cake is at best misleading and this thick slice of marshmallow covered in chocolate is nothing special to look at it. But this is actually one of the best Russian sweets. Birds’ Milk was the first cake to be patented in Soviet times. This official recipe was developed by a group of confectioners under the leadership of Vladimir Guralnik – a legend in the world of Russian sweets – who was the chief dessert-maker at the Prague restaurant in Moscow. The Birds’ Milk recipe is derived from French marshmallows, but with several important amendments.

This cake is still extremely popular in Russia, and a sure sign of its success are all the copycat versions that can be found everywhere, even in the most expensive shops. Of course these fake birds’ milk cakes are edible, and sometimes even quite pleasant, but to compare the two would be like comparing primitive cave paintings with the Mona Lisa.

4. Chak-chak

A recipe that originates from the Turkic peoples, chak-chak is a solid favorite of the sweet-toothed Russians. It is still considered the national dish of Tatars and Bashkirs – one of Russia’s largest ethnic minorities. Unlike pastels, the recipe for chak-chak has remained virtually unchanged since ancient times. This Eastern delight is made from soft dough and raw eggs, molded into short delicate sticks that look like vermicelli or marbles, which are then deep-fried and placed in an elegant pile before a hot honey sauce is poured over them. The pile is then left to harden before being served.

5. Prague Cake

This variation of the Viennese Sachertorte has only a very tenuous link with the Czech capital. The recipe was developed by the same legend of Russian confectionary, Vladimir Guralnik, who learned the art of patisserie under the guidance of Czech master-confectioners who made regular trips to Moscow to teach and learn new skills. The cake requires four different sorts of cream, some laced with brandy and other liquors, and the pastry layer is soaked in rum. The original Viennese cake does not contain any cream at all. Unlike Birds’ Milk cake, the recipe for Prague cake was never patented and the delicacy is now prepared in patisseries all over Russia.

6. Vatrushka

The world of Russian confection would not be same without the vatrushka, and this recipe has hardly changed in thousands of years. A vatrushka is one of the most archaic delicacies that featured in the cuisine of ancient Slavic tribes. It is a sort of round bun made from leavened, short or unleavened dough.

Its filling is simple yet effective – the soft bun is perfectly complemented by baked cottage cheese with sugar, jam, condensed milk or fruit puree. Vatrushkas may be humble, but demand for them is high. However, you are more likely to find them at a simple bakery than in trendy patisseries.

7. Churchkhela

Churchkhela is mainly found in seaside resorts in the Krasnodar Territory since the recipe has its roots in Caucasian cuisine. Churchkhela is made from nuts that are put onto a thread and dipped in sweet grape juice that has been thickened with flour, which forms a chewy coating. This dessert is undoubtedly the most healthy delicacy on the list, as it contains lots of glucose and fructose, vegetable oils, proteins, organic acids and vitamins.

Out of the 12 sweets on our list, this one probably also takes the most time to prepare. Each churchkhela needs to dry in the sun for at least two weeks, and it is then left to mature for up to three months. But anyone who tastes a churchkhela will agree that it is worth the effort – it eventually acquires a rich, chocolaty taste, even though the recipe does not contain anything even remotely resembling a cocoa bean.

8. Baked Apple

Most of Russia has a northern climate, and the brief summers mean fruit is scarce. As a result, hardy varieties of apple are a favorite ingredient in Russian cooking. Traditional Russian varieties tend to be quite sour, but over the centuries, Russian cooks have found ways of making them sweet. First the apples are soaked in various syrups and sweet concoctions. Then the core is cut out, and the apple is stuffed with a sweet filling and baked. After churchkhela, this is probably the second most healthy treat on our list. Baked apples are rich in iron and potassium, they are even an important part of some diets. Nutritionists claim regularly eating baked apples doesn’t just help shed excess pounds, it can also increase metabolism, plump up the skin and smooth fine lines.

9. Syrniki (Cottage cheese pancakes) and oladie (thick pancakes)

Served on their own, syrniki and oladie could easily be mistaken for a starter or a side dish. It is what they are served with that makes them one of the great Russian desserts; optional extras include cream, jam, honey, fruit puree or syrup. These sorts of pancakes are actually made from very healthy ingredients – in addition to the basic mixture of cottage cheese, eggs and flour, which is fried in a frying pan, grated carrot, apple, dried apricots, pears, nuts, pumpkin and squash can also be used, making for a dessert that is as healthy as it is tasty.

10. Sweet Soya Bars

Russians who grew up in the Soviet era, when there was a deficit of just about everything, have fond memories of these sweets. Even when the shelves were empty, soya sticks were nearly always available and you hardly ever had to stand in line for them.

At a pinch, you could say they taste a bit like halva, one of the highlights of Eastern cuisine - maybe because they contain ground peanut. The most popular soya sticks were produced by the RotFront factory. Readers should be warned that these innocent-looking sweets have a very high calorie content – about 514 calori es per 100 grams.

11. Smokva (Fruit Leather)

This sweet has almost been forgotten, but you can still find it in some Russian villages. In the olden days this was known as “dried paradise apple.” In essence it tastes a bit like modern-day fruit pastels. It is made by boiling up pectin-rich fruits such as apples, quinces, plums and rowanberries.

Interestingly, smokva originally meant dried figs. But figs were too expensive for the average person, which led an unknown cook to develop a substitute – a fruity sweet made from ingredients that were locally available, cooking them in honey or sugar syrup. Since the end of the 18th Century, when French cuisine came to Russia, the names of fruit-flavored candies have been Europeanized, and smokva is now again the word used for a fig (as in the fruit itself). But in remote parts of Russia this traditional sweet has kept its historical name.

12. Alenka Chocolate

Alenka may not be the tastiest chocolate in Russia, but is probably the most recognized brand in the Russian chocolate industry.

It has been in production since 1965 and is the result of a special socialist food program implemented to mass-produce affordable milk chocolate. To find the right packaging for the candy bar, the producers held a competition and advertised it in a Moscow newspaper. The winner was a photo of an 8-month girl, submitted by an artist who worked at the factory, although later rumors circulated that the cute little girl on the packet was actually Svetlana Allilueva – Stalin’s daughter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


            So Правда, meaning truth, is this news source that has been around in Russia for FOREVER. It was first published in 1912! While the NY Times has roots to 1851, this is still an impressive feat and a long time! It is a pinnacle source of the Russian Empire, the USSR, and Russia itself, as it has been around since the Tsarist days and has been controlled by each regime in turn. Censored by Tsars, controlled by Communist party members, today it has no official relations with the party. But who knows right? Check the article below.

Pravda (the name means "truth" in Russian) was first issued on May 5, 1912, in St. Petersburg by the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Its aim was to publicize labor activism and expose working conditions in Russian factories. The editors published many letters and articles from ordinary workers, their primary target audience at the time.
Pravda was a legal daily newspaper subject to postpublication censorship by the tsarist authorities. These authorities had the power to fine the paper, withdraw its publication license, confiscate a specific issue, or jail the editor. They closed the
paper eight times in the first two years of its existence, and each time the Bolsheviks reopened it under another name ("Worker's Truth," etc.). In spite of police harassment the newspaper maintained an average circulation of about forty thousand in the period 1912 to 1914, probably a higher number than other socialist papers (but small compared to the commercial "penny newspapers"). About one-half of Pravda 's circulation was distributed in St. Petersburg. After the authorities closed the paper on July 21, 1914, it did not appear again until after the February Revolution of 1917.
Pravda reopened on March 5, 1917, and published continuously until closed down by Russian Republic president Boris Yeltsin on August 22,1991. From December 1917 until the summer of 1928 the newspaper was run by editor in chief Nikolai Bukarin and Maria Ilichna Ulyanova, Lenin's sister. When Bukharin broke with Josef Stalin over collectivization, Stalin used thePravda party organization to undermine his authority. Bukharin and his supporters, including Ulyanova, were formally removed from the editorial staff in 1929. By 1933 the newspaper, now headed by Lev Mekhlis, was Stalin's mouthpiece.
Throughout the Soviet era access to Pravda was a necessity for party members. The paper's primary role was not to entertain, inform, or instruct the Soviet population as a whole, but to deliver Central Committee instructions and messages to Soviet communist cadres, foreign governments, and foreign communist parties. Thus, as party membership shifted, so did Pravda's presentation. In response to the influx of young working-class men into the Party in the 1920s, for example, editors simplified the paper's language and resorted to the sort of journalism that they believed would appeal to this audiencemilitant slogans, tales of heroic feats of production, and denunciation of class enemies.
Pravda also produced reports on popular moods. This practice began in the early 1920s as Bukharin and Ulianova played a leading role in organizing the worker and peasant correspondents' movement in the Soviet republics. Workers and peasants (many of them Party activists) wrote into the newspaper with reports on daily life, often shaped by the editors' instructions. Newspapers, including Pravda, received and processed millions of such letters throughout Soviet history. Editors published a few of these, forwarded some to prosecutorial organs, and used others to produce the summaries of popular moods, which were sent to Party leaders.
After the collapse of the USSR nationalist and communist journalists intermittently published a print newspaper and an online newspaper under the name Pravda. However, the new publications were not official organs of the revived Communist Party.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

We’ve all heard tales of soul-searching, and of the strange and mythical happenings that come from venturing deep into the heart of the rugged Russian wilderness. This is the story of one such adventure, and of a man who revolutionized symphonic music...

A LONG TIME AGO, IN A COUNTRY FAR, FAR AWAY Paul O’Neill was inspired. It was the middle of 1980, and he was fortunate enough to have visited the Russian/Siberian countryside. He describes his experience with the land as “incredibly beautiful but incredibly harsh and unforgiving as well.” This description would transcend a mere description of the landscape, as great-thinker O’Neill goes on to say that “Life, too, can be incredibly beautiful but also incredibly harsh and unforgiving…”

Led along this literal and philosophical track, O’Neill fondly recalls his experience with the Trans-Siberian Railway, the “one thing that everyone who lives there has in common that runs across [Russia] in relative safety.” This was his moment of truth. It was from this railway that O’Neill took the name Trans-Siberian, which would later be applied to his progressive, symphonic rock band, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO).

Since its inception, the TSO has been making waves. The flood of its popularity came in 1999, following the production of their album The Christmas Attic. They have a unique sound, and “elaborate concerts, which include a string section, a light show, lasers, ‘enough pyro to be seen from the international space station’, moving trusses, video screens, and effects synchronized to music.”

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is also known for their extensive donations to charity and volunteerism. As O’Neill said when asked about TSO’s origins, “the one thing that we all have in common that runs across [Life] in relative safety is music.”

Whatever they do, TSO tries to uphold the meaning of their name.

Check out this Christmas mix if you haven’t heard it yet!

Folk Remedies of Russia (Unit 5)

I have been sick recently and thought learning so Russian remedies would be fun. I got them from this site here. I suggests giving the sites I link a visit they usually have more fun stuff to see. Here are the suggestions I feel have applied to my struggles. 

Sore Throat To combat a child's sore throat, Russian mothers bring a cup of milk to a gentle boil and stir in 2 tbsp. honey, then serve the concoction warm. According to The World's Healthiest Foods, honey has proven antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities. Another honey-based folk remedy calls for 3 tsp. of honey with 1 tbsp. each of finely-chopped onion and grated apples. According to Russian Foods, a third Russian folk remedy recommends grating beets and squeezing out the juice until you have 8 oz., then adding 1 tbsp. vinegar. Gargle with the mixture five times a day. 

Nasal Congestion Cover 1 chopped garlic clove with 1 tbsp. vegetable oil and let it steep overnight. Strain in the morning, and use as nose drops. According to The World's Healthiest Foods, the allicin in garlic is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral agent. From the Neva News comes the suggestion of rolling a warm, just-boiled egg back and forth over the maxillary sinuses, located just above the nostrils. 

Cough Mustard flour plays an important part in many Russian folk remedies. In one popular treatment for cough, small pieces of paper covered with mustard flour, called gorchichniki, are soaked in very warm water, and placed on the chest and back for 10 to 20 minutes while the person huddles under a blanket. According to The St. Petersburg Times, this causes a rush of blood to the skin and gives a sensation of warmth. After the treatment, the person stays in bed all night so as not to lose the warmth generated by the gorchichniki. 

Things to try (Unit 4)

 - Image © Spaceboyjosh
Russians are known for their for their brews ranging from tea to vodka. Well there is a beer that you can possibly try here even if you are under the drinking age. Kvas, a mildly sweet drink that is basically a non-alcoholic beer. Made from fermented dark rye bread, it has an almost non-existent alcohol content (0.5-1%). It’s the old proletariat drink – what farmers and workers used to drink instead of water to quench their thirst. It’s usually served in a giant 500-ml portion for a ridiculously cheap price. Look for a place that has it on tap for the best taste, although you can also buy it by the 2L bottle at most supermarkets and corner shops.source Trying Kvas in America may be a pitch fetch but entertaining idea is still fun. It also adds to looking forward to future visits to Russia for non drinkers to try the truly mild drink. 
Звёздные войны!!

10 Days to the world premiere!

here is a cool video to get you hyped!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Russian Christmas

Christmas in Russia is celebrated on January 7, according to the Orthodox calendar. Although preceding Christmas, New Year’s Day, January 1st, is the more important holiday. Russia also has a Santa Claus, called Ded Moroz, or know as Father Frost. Accompanied the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), he brings gifts to children to lay under the New Year's tree.